Chart Music – How Bad Can It Be?

Pop music in 2014 is frequently slated as generic, bland, meaningless rubbish. Is that fair? Let’s find out…

 
  Those who know me at all will know my musical tastes are not attuned to those of the 21st century zeitgeist. My passion is, and has always been, for what are rapidly becoming niche genres; hard rock, punk rock, heavy metal, grunge – these are the styles of music which I love, but I’m under no illusions – they aren’t exactly what’s getting played on Radio One. As a rocker, I have entered into more than my fair share of slating modern pop music – this article, for example – but have I been entirely fair? 
 
  In the interests of science – as well as (hopefully) proving myself right to shun the chart-toppers of today – I have set myself a challenge. Five songs – the top five on the Official Chart Company’s most up-to-date list – get one playthrough each. I shall be as objective as possible – i.e. not very. Let us take the plunge…
 
 
 
  First things first: Autotuned to all hell. I know this is pretty standard for modern pop tracks, but it is used far too heavily here. The chorus is catchy, there’s no denying that – this is one I have heard before, and it does worm its way inside your head – but more or less meaningless. it does work as a hook, though, and the rest of the lyrics are fairly pointed. 
 
  The overall message of the song – that people (specifically women) should be less concerned with their weight and physical appearance – is unquestionably a good one (provided they do not become unhealthily overweight, of course), but Trainor does fall into the all-too-common trap of countering the media-fuelled obsession with being thin with an overt sexualisation of women’s bodies which, to me, rather misses the point. Surely it should be possible to encourage women to care less about their dress size and attack the misogynistic culture of women as sex objects? Evidently not.
 
  Still, at least the artist actually had a hand in writing the lyrics, and the instruments were all played by the track’s producer and co-writer (Kevin Kadish), making a refreshing change from the usual assembly-line construction of pop tracks. Overall, it could have been a lot worse and I’m glad that the no. 1 spot is filled by something which at least has a message to it.
 
 
  The video is more or less the polar opposite of Trainor’s offering, glorifying the so-called ‘beauty’ enshrined in being super-thin. It is characteristic of the general dichotomy of the modern world that these two tracks can both be at the top of the charts at once. The hook is undeniably well-crafted to be as catchy as possible, but the lyrics are more or less uninspired – the singers desire to copulate with an unnamed fourth party. There isn’t anything more to it than that.
 
  The track is carried by Jessie J (real name Jessie Cornish)’s voice – it is, I have to admit, strikingly powerful, if ill-used. Grande’s, meanwhile, is nothing more than mediocre (even with a generous helping of autotuning) and why Cornish chose to include Nicki Minaj – possibly the worst rapper currently in existence – in this project is beyond me. If the abysmal rap segment were to be removed, the R&B-influenced pop tune which would be left would be passable. As it is, my poor ears urge me never to listen to it again, and I think I shall acquiesce.
 
 
  Aptly named.
 
  Yes, the lyrics are repetitive and I think that if I ever here the words ‘I shake it off’ again I might cry, but the sentiment is at least admirable – sod the bastards, I’ll do what I want. A welcome departure from whinging about her ex-boyfriends, it must be said, though the musical style chosen is something of a step in the wrong direction. Swift is an artist for whom I have previously had very little respect, but this latest offering – when boiled down to its key message – is something I can at least relate to. Now, stick some guitars in the background, swap that trombone for a saxophone and ramp up the percussion a few notches and I can feel a bit of a ska-punk classic in the offing. No? Perhaps not. In any case, its a marked improvement on the last one, but my faith in humanity has not yet been completely restored.
 
 
  This is more of a Paloma Faith featuring Sigma track, to be honest. It’s been a while since I heard a proper drum ‘n’ bass track – dubstep, house and trap seem more the go-to dance genres these days – and frankly, this isn’t it. Faith’s vocals are soulful and quite strong, but that’s the problem – the actual drum ‘n’ bass element of the song is completely overwhelmed. This is no Propane Nightmares – but then, Sigma are no Pendulum. Not even close. If you want drum ‘n’ bass, give In Silico a listen. If it’s dance music in general, The Prodigy exist for heaven’s sake! 
 
  Take this as a Paloma Faith soul ballad, and it’s just a fairly mediocre song by a slightly-above-average singer, devoid of much meaning or lyrical depth. Take it as a drum ‘n’ bass record, and it’s not even worth your time.
 
 
  Pretty standard electronic dance fare. You could certainly dance to it, and if that’s all we’re looking for in what is admittedly a dance track, we can leave it there. However, I like a little more in a song – I’ve moshed to Cry For the Indians, but that also has a powerful message of its own, so why can’t I dance to a track which has one? Blame certainly doesn’t – while Newman’s vocals are passable, the lyrics are dull and repetitive, and don’t really gel with the upbeat tempo of the music. 
 
  
  There we go, all done! That was a long five songs, but an interesting experience. From this little experiment, I think we can gather three things: One, that pop music can have a message, but that it all too frequently doesn’t; Two, that overall the charts aren’t entirely devoid of musical talent – just mostly; and Three, that now Queen have come on Spotify and I feel much, much better.
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